Accomplished Women in Meeting

(c) 2013 SpokaneFocus,, used under CC BY 2.0.

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Have you made goals for yourself this year?

That’s a rhetorical question, of course. Setting goals, and achieving them, is an important part of your success.

I’ve written articles about strategies to help you achieve goals (“Best Possible Outcome“). But it’s been a while, so a few weeks ago, I searched the scientific literature for the most-recent research on goal achievement.

Here’s what I found.

Three tips for defining goals.

1) Define your goals in terms of mastery and performance.

When defining your goals, define them in terms of mastery goals and performance goals.

Mastery goals are targets you set for yourself that fulfill your own sense of accomplishment, satisfaction, and ability. Assess your progress towards mastery goals by asking yourself whether you’ve achieved what you want to achieve, i.e., not by some external standard. The benefit of mastery goals is that they help sustain your drive to achieve the goal, deeply process any material you study, persist in the face of setbacks, and enjoy working to achieve the goal.

Performance goals are targets you set for yourself that measure your accomplishment in relation to others’ accomplishments. Unlike with mastery goals, with performance goals, progress is assessed by external standards. The benefit of performance goals is that they — not surprisingly — drive you to perform well.

Studies show that defining goals in terms of both mastery and performance increases your ability to accomplish your goals.

2) Define your goals in terms of approaching rather than avoiding.

When you define your goals, define them as approach goals, rather than avoidance goals.

Approach goals are targets you set for yourself. Which sounds obvious — isn’t that what a “goal” is? But another way is to target something you want not to do; that’s an avoidance goal.

Studies show that defining your goals as approach goals leads to less frustration and anxiety, and better performance.

3) Define your goals to be slightly harder than you prefer.

When defining goals, make them slightly harder than you prefer.

A slightly harder goal than you prefer usually makes you uncomfortable, but not intimidated. At the same time, it’s not an easy goal. Usually, a goal just the right level of difficulty makes you squirm. (Yes, squirm.)

Studies show that setting a goal slightly harder than you prefer leads to maximal achievement.

Next time: an example.

In my next article, I’ll give you an example of applying these three tips for defining goals to maximize your achievement.

In the meantime, what questions do you have? When have you defined your goals using these three tips, how has it helped you?

Selected Citations

Achievement Goals and Persistence across Tasks: The Roles of Failure and Success. Georgios D Sideridis and Avi Kaplan. Journal of Experimental Education, 2011; 79(4): 429-451.

Achievement goals, task performance, and interest: why perceived goal difficulty matters. C Senko and JM Harackiewicz. Personality & social psychology bulletin, 2005 Dec; 31(12): 1739-53.

The social-cognitive model of achievement motivation and the 2 x 2 achievement goal framework. AJ Elliot, Da Fonseca D, and AC Moller. Journal of personality and social psychology, 2006 Apr; 90(4): 666-79.

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